Liverpool City Council is to embark on a multi-million pound journey to clean up emissions from the city’s buses.
The council’s cabinet has approved to accept a £3.3m fund to convert the engines of 200 buses, as part of a wider programme to improve Liverpool’s air quality.
The funding comes from the Department of Transport and the council will now set out a timeline to create a cleaner, greener fleet with Merseytravel, which has also begun decarbonising the region’s buses.
The decision comes just days after the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority announced it was to introduce its first wave of hydrogen powered buses.
Supporting further improvements in reducing bus emissions has been identified as one of the key strands of Liverpool’s draft Clean Air Plan, which aims to bring down kerbside Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels in the city to below the national target of an annual mean concentration of 40 microgammes per m3.
In 2019, a third of the city’s Passive Diffusion Tubes for monitoring NO2 were found to exceed national air quality standards.
The highest recording was on Lime Street which had an annual average of 57.3 microgammes per m3, with The Strand also exceeding acceptable levels with an annual average of 45 microgammes per m3.
Poor air quality is a proven contributory factor to respiratory problems, and Liverpool has among the highest rates of child asthma and lung cancer in Europe. The current Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the city’s respiratory issues with Liverpool recording one of the highest death rates in the country.
The city council is already spending £47m on improving traffic flow and cycling and pedestrian access around the city centre.
And in a bid to further comply with national air quality standards, the council’s cabinet has also approved a plan to launch a public consultation over the summer for the potential introduction of a city centre charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ).
Formal conversations with major stakeholders in the city region will now begin to explore the economic, environmental and health impacts of a charging CAZ – and the class of CAZ that might achieve the best balance.
There are various types of CAZ which could see a council levy a fee on typically older vehicles with high emissions as in Birmingham and Bath. The council will have the ability to provide short term and longer term exemptions – for example those requiring disability access, those that are less able to pay and emergency vehicles.
Liverpool is undertaking extensive transport and air quality modelling to predict how air quality could improve by a series of interventions, which also includes establishing a funding programme to ensure freight vehicles and taxis also comply with NO2 quality standards.
The city council, which declared a climate emergency in July 2019, has already begun to implement cleaner, greener measures such as de-carbonising its own fleet of vehicles. It now has the largest low-carbon refuse fleet in the UK and in keeping with the motor industry’s drive to improve its carbin footprint has installed more than 120 electric charging points across the city.
The city council monitors NO2 levels across a network of six automatic monitoring stations and more than 140 passive diffusion tubes spread across the city.
The data will be used to monitor and evaluate the progress of the various interventions the city is implementing and considering,
Liverpool’s 2021 annual status report into Air Quality, which will look at 2020 data, will be submitted to DEFRA in June.
Councillor Laura Robertson-Collins, Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change, said: “As a council we have to tackle the problem of poor air quality to protect everyone’s health. We’ve all seen how much respiratory issues have played their part in the devastating impact of Covid-19 and we can no long afford to allow the status quo to continue.
“Liverpool city centre may need a ‘Clean Air Zone’ to help us achieve that goal, which is why we’ve set out a plan to examine that option. The timing for a fully informed conversation about the pros and cons of introducing a charge on the more polluting vehicles has never been better.
“The funding to retrofit our buses is a great step in the right direction, as a fleet of 200 will carry hundreds of thousands of people every year across millions of miles around the city.
“We also need to decarbonise our city – and stick to our commitment to prevent the climate emergency becoming a full scale disaster. Providing sustainable alternatives to the car by making journeys by bus and public transport, walking and cycling, easier and more attractive is the future – one which benefits us as individuals and our planet.”
Liam Robinson, Transport Portfolio Holder for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said: “This is yet more good news on the work to build a sustainable, low-carbon transport network for the Liverpool City Region, following the announcement earlier this week of the work underway to bring hydrogen-powered buses to our streets.
“Buses are absolutely vital to our city region, with more than 80% of public transport journeys here being made on them. And they’re already one of the greenest ways to travel, with every bus taking more than 75 cars off the road.
“The vehicles which will be converted using this funding will be a welcome addition to 200 buses across the city region which have already been upgraded in this way to reduce carbon emissions.”